Will King George reign forever? George Strait dominated the fan-voted Country Weekly Presents the TNN Music Awards Thursday night (June 15), winning five awards, including Entertainer of the Year.
Brad Paisley, whose allegiance to country music tradition and habit of wearing a black cowboy hat recalls Strait’s style, won three. “George is someone who taught me to write songs,” Paisley said backstage, “even though he’s not a songwriter, he picks ’em.” Paisley went on to speculate that fans might be sending a message to record companies and country radio by voting for traditional artists for the majority of the evening’s awards.
The “King of the Cowboys,” as Strait’s producer, Tony Brown, called him, also was named Male Artist of the Year. He captured Album of the Year honors for Always Never the Same, Single of the Year for “Write This Down” and the inaugural Impact Award, which recognizes an artist who contributes to country music’s positive presence in the media.
Strait is a spokesman for Tractor Supply Company, and his touring country music festival has been a bestseller for three years. This year, the tour drew major sponsorships from Chevrolet and Nokia, among others. Strait wrapped up his 10-city tour last weekend in Houston and was not on hand for the awards show.
Two of Paisley’s three victories honored “He Didn’t Have to Be,” which was named Song and CMT Video of the Year. The third was the Discovery Award, which recognizes great promise for career longevity.
Paisley wrote “He Didn’t Have to Be” with friend Kelley Lovelace. The song was inspired by Lovelace’s relationship with his stepson, McCain Merren, now 9 years old. All three came to the stage to accept the award.
“The greatest thing about country music is that you can write a song that you think is so personal, that there’s no way that it could be anybody else’s story,” Paisley said on stage. “You find out that we are all the same. I met all you folks in autograph lines this week, and I am reminded that our obligation is to sing your songs for you. Thank you for telling us tonight that we’ve done that.”
Backstage, Paisley was humble about his achievement. “I believe in my heart that was a gift from God that night,” he said of the song. “I don’t think I’m that good of a songwriter.”
Soon after receiving his song award, the first of the night, Paisley returned to the stage to perform the song. When he finished, he recognized Lovelace, seated in the audience with his family.
“I’d a lost this bet if I’d a had to bet on this,” Paisley said backstage. “We’ve got a lot of fans out there for Faith Hill and Lonestar, and I never thought we’d get more votes than that.”
Paisley said he believed the song touched a nerve with country fans. “They said, ‘we get the point of this, this is us.'”
He also won CMT Music Video of the Year for “He Didn’t Have to Be.” “The tough thing about videos is, you have to illustrate the lyrics, visually,” Paisley said. “We all have different things in our minds that we see when we hear a song, and you run the risk of ruining the song … these guys know how to do it and make you all love it even more than the song itself.”
He shared the award with the directors, Robert Deaton and George Flanigen. “I love country music and this is a country song,” Deaton said. “When you have a good song, it’s easy to make a video,” Flanigen added.
Paisley also won the Discovery Award, which goes to a new country artist who demonstrates the greatest promise for achieving star status and career longevity. Host Foxworthy dubbed it the “rookie of the year” trophy.
When Paisley accepted the award, he again paid tribute to the fans. “I don’t know why you do it, but you sit out there in 95 degree weather and you get in lines and you wait for hours for folks like us and we don’t get it, trust us. It’s so wonderful.”
Country Weekly Presents the TNN Music Awards came on the final day of the 29th annual International Country Music Fan Fair, a weeklong festival of music concerts and personal encounters with the stars. TNN has produced and telecast an annual, fan-voted country music awards show since 1988, when it introduced the Viewer’s Choice Awards. In 1990, the Viewer’s Choice Awards merged with the Music City News Awards to become the TNN Music City News Country Awards. TNN and Music City News produced an annual, fan-voted awards show until last year, when the contract expired.
Faith Hill repeated last year’s victory as Female Artist of the Year, but her husband, Tim McGraw, went home empty-handed. “This week is for you, the fans,” she said. “I am so impressed by you, because you not only buy our records, not only come to our shows, but you also give from your heart to all the charitable events that have been going on this week. You all have just played a huge part in every activity that has gone on, and you keep giving and you keep giving, and I want to say thank you very much … there are no other fans like you.”
The Dixie Chicks were named Group/Duo of the Year. Under last year’s system they were named Vocal Band of the Year, while Brooks & Dunn were Vocal Duo/Group of the Year. In the midst of their first headlining national tour, the Chicks were not on hand for the awards ceremony.
Steve Wariner won the Fast Track Award for demonstrating significant creative growth and major development in sales and chart activity, live performance and critical media attention. Wariner’s career has enjoyed an impressive resurgence since he moved from Arista to Capitol Nashville, where he has recorded two albums and hit songs such as “Holes in the Floor of Heaven” and “Faith in You.”
Clint Black and Lisa Hartman Black won the award for Collaborative Event of the Year. The duo recorded “When I Said I Do” about four days before Black was to turn in his record, his wife said backstage. Accepting the award, he recalled that the inspiration for the song came from his wife and that it came in the couple’s kitchen. “There’s more than cookin’ that goes on in our kitchen every day,” he quipped. “Even though that’s where the inspiration comes from, I have to tell you from my heart that I’m always thinking of you when I’m writing songs. I want so much to entertain you. You are the greatest fans in the world.”
The show itself had a number of high points, not the least of which was the comic beginning, in which former quarterback and popular sportscaster Terry Bradshaw played a coach giving his Tennessee Titan-clad players a pep talk prior to the show. He warned that there might be “some clips, some excessive holding, maybe even some unnecessary roughness.”
Later, Bradshaw and Toby Keith clowned around, singing in tandem Keith’s “How Do You Like Me Now?!” when they presented the award for Collaborative Event of the Year.
Following Faith Hill’s opening performance of “I Got My Baby,” host Jeff Foxworthy had some mic trouble, but he recovered nicely. He did an extended bit on country music websites in which he joked about Billy Ray Cyrus, Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks and Willie Nelson, among others. Throughout the evening, he also answered e-mails on topics such as whether he writes his own material, what the new Country Weekly/TNN award should be called and whether “redneck” and “hillbilly” are synonymous.
Alabama received the Minnie Pearl Humanitarian Award in recognition of the group’s work for community and humanitarian causes. The quartet’s support of the Big Oak Ranch in Alabama for abused and neglected kids, and for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis made them deserving recipients. The group showed great emotion on stage.
Backstage, bassist and vocalist Teddy Gentry choked up again. “Every kid deserves to be wanted and to be loved,” he said, “and I had someone who gave me that in my life. It was my grandpa, and I was very fortunate. I identify with those kids.”
Kenny Rogers received the first Country Weekly Career Achievement award. “I want you to know that this means more to me than you could ever imagine,” he acknowledged. “For the last 10, 12 years I guess, I’ve been giving out these awards, doing it with as much grace as I could, but it’s a wonderful thing to receive one …[This award] is important for two reasons — first of all, it was voted on by you, the fans. And secondly, and maybe more importantly, you gave it to me while I was alive.”
Backstage, Rogers was joined by Alison Krauss and Billy Dean, his harmony singers on the No. 1 hit “Buy Me a Rose.” “I have to say how unbelievably fair it is that he has another No. 1 hit,” Krauss said. “That is why he is who he is, he’s just better than everything.”